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I'm Principal Scientist for Botany at the RHS and work on the correct naming of plants and manage the RHS Herbarium. I am part of an expedition to South Africa this January to study Kniphofia and their natural hybrids.

A day with the experts

Posted by Chris Whitehouse on 04 Feb 2012 at 09:13 AM

Today I was privileged to be shown around Durban by two of the experts in Kniphofia, Dr Syd Ramdhani and Prof. Himansu Baijnath.  Although not the most floriferous day on the trip, it was one of the more enlightening ones because apart from seeing the pokers in the field, I was able to talk about poker biology and evolution.  In particular, we visited the site of the racecourse lily, Kniphofia pauciflora, probably the rarest Kniphofia.

Kniphofia pauciflora grows in the middle of the Clairwood Racecourse, a patch of rough ground not more than a few square metres.  There are possible less than 20 plants surviving in the wild, although it has been distributed widely in cultivation.  The plant was not flowering but to see its last wild refuge, a small plot in the middle of a racecourse that is possibly to be sold for development, was a great reminder of the fragility of many species.


We went on to see a population of K. gracilis, which grows right by the coast in the grassland just above the shore.  "Gracilis" is an abused epithet by past horticulturalists for small hybrids, not necessarily having anything to do with genuine K. gracilis.  This was evident from the plants we found, which were around 1m tall, not dwarf like the cultivars described as K. gracilis hybrids.  We made an unsuccessful attempt to find K. littoralis, and the coastal forms of K. linearifolia and K. laxifolia that we found, were not in flower.  Nevertheless it was good to see that Kniphofia grow in tropical coastal grasslands - not where I had imagined their prime habitat.

Plant of the Day - Encephalartos woodii.  A solitary plant of this species was found by John Medley Wood at Ngoye Forest and planted in the Durban Botanic Garden in 1895.  Unfortunately, it was only a male specimen, no female has ever been found. Therefore, all plants of this species in the world originate as offsets from this one tree.

Animal of the Day - Hadeda ibis.  This bird is most well known for its call from which it derives its name: ha-de-da.  It is also a welcome visitor to gardens for its propensity to aerate your lawns free of charge with its long curving bill poking into the ground in search of grubs.  This one was a friendly visitor to the Durban Botanic Garden café - it certainly made a change to sparrows picking up the crumbs.


Botany said:

Safely back home, it is now time to assess the expedition and write up the reports. A first assessment

on 19 Feb 2012 at 09:08 AM

Botany said:

This page is to act as a summary of my expedition to find Kniphofia , red hot pokers, with links through

on 24 Feb 2012 at 03:29 PM